Speed Matters: 4 Ways to Meet Consumer Expectations and Bolster Fulfillment
Speed of delivery is one of the most critical aspects of providing a positive customer experience. Whether shipping to stores or directly to shoppers, companies must try to fulfill orders and cross that last mile of delivery as fast as possible to meet consumer expectations for speed, which seem to only get shorter with each year.
In fact, a 2012 study showed 5.5 days was the average delivery time that a consumer would expect to receive their order. In 2016, that number dropped to 4.8 days. And now, two days is the benchmark — as set by Amazon.com.
These heightened expectations have put mounting pressure on warehouses and distribution centers to accelerate order fulfillment, even as many struggle to keep up due to continued reliance on legacy systems and processes like manual order picking.
For those looking for innovate ways to bolster fulfillment, below are a few approaches to consider:
Leave it to the Robots
When facilities rely on manual order picking processes, fulfillment speed becomes entirely dependent on the physical endurance of warehouse employees. With rampant labor shortages plaguing distribution centers (DCs) worldwide, this can mean less-than-optimal speeds despite best efforts to keep orders moving out the door.
Instead, consider putting order fulfillment in the hands of robots. Today, there are robotic material handling solutions that can perform all product handling and picking operations simultaneously, making such a system up to six times faster than any manual order picking process. In addition to filling operational gaps left by labor shortage, such systems can run 24/7, with all orders checked by warehouse control software, thereby eliminating picking errors.
Store More in Less Space
Traditional warehouse layouts feature rows upon rows of product that not only consume considerable space, but also time as employees need to travel up and down long stretches to retrieve products for each order. It’s possible to eliminate these space-wasting aisles altogether, however, by employing high-density storage when automating.
Namely, consider an overhead robotic system that allows for dense floor-based storage. There’s no need for racking or traveling around aisles, since products are both stored and picked from a tight envelope under a gantry robot. You can do more with your existing footprint, storing more products while using up to 50 percent less space. This can be greatly beneficial to DCs dealing with SKU proliferation.
Look to 3PL Providers
If consumer expectations for speed are outpacing your facility’s capabilities — or you’re simply running out of storage space — you can outsource to a third-party logistics (3PL) provider. A 3PL provider can bring in a company’s inventory and manage the entire order fulfillment process on its behalf.
Often, 3PL providers have fulfillment centers built in multiple geographic regions, which can put products closer to stores and customers, shortening delivery times. There has even been a trend towards 3PL providers adopting automation in their facilities to optimize space utilization and material flow, as a single provider might be housing products from numerous clients.
Find Power in Numbers
Among brands and retailers, there's growing interest in micro-fulfillment centers as an option for accelerating fulfillment. These are smaller warehouses that are a fraction of a traditional facility’s size. Similar to 3PL providers with widespread locations, the goal of micro-fulfillment centers is to place locations in and around metropolitan areas near stores and customers where demand is high.
In the end, when you can meet — or better, exceed — consumer expectations for speed, you stand a better chance of capturing and retaining their business by virtue of positive experiences. Thus, by accelerating order fulfillment, you’re improving your ability to win in the race against the clock — and the competition.
Derek Rickard is director of sales at Cimcorp, a leading global supplier of turnkey automation for intralogistics, using advanced robotics, material handling and software technologies.
Related story: Fulfillment in the New Retail Reality, Part 3